A Family Visit in September

Dear Students,

My sister Kathy came to visit me from Pennsylvania this week. My boys loved to see Uncle Mickey, Aunt Kathy, KK and baby Abby.

KK is 2, she popped in and out of our tiny doggy door like a puppy!

I played tour guide and drove them around the Valley.

We took the Apache Trail to the Tortilla Flat.

Phoenix is very different from Harrisburg, PA.

Max, KK and Brady at the Tortilla Flat. We liked the money on the wall, the saddle seats and the snakeskins–don’t forget the funny bathrooms!

I came back on Wednesday and shelved books in the library and hung up posters for the Book Fair. Are you excited for the book fair? It is next week!!

Book Fair next week in the gymcafetorium! We use the Gilbert family business A plus books to help us run our book fair. Shop local and support your library!

Then I went back to playing tour guide.

On Monday we visited the Lost Dutchman State Park and hiked the Treasure Loop Trail. We did not go the whole loop. We walked to the Green Rock and then walked back. KK and Max were good hikers!

Do you like to hike? I took my family to my favorite places near our house. Where are your favorite places to visit with your family?

It is still very hot here for a hike in the desert. We left the house early in the morning, brought plenty of water and wore comfortable shoes. Stopping for snacks along the way helped too!

Baby Abby is two months old, so she was old enough to go on a hike too.

The parking lot for Papago park is hidden inside the zoo parking lot, Turn into the zoo and then take a quick left to Papago park. We drove around a bit before I found the right lot.

We took her to Papago Park to Hole in the Rock for a super easy hike. It is only 1/8 of a mile long with a dramatic pay off. Perfect for that newborn attention span.

Interior of Hole in the Rock. Fun to climb around the inside!

At the top of KK’s wish list was Organ Stop Pizza and the Children’s Museum of Phoenix.

The ice cream stand and the grocery store were the biggest hits with KK. What do you like to do best at the Children’s Museum?

My mom placed an order for olive oil, so we had lunch at the Queen Creek Olive Mill. Max and KK played tag in the olive grove. We saw pomegranates, a bird’s nest and lots of olives!

Can you tell me what kind of bird made this nest?

Do you like pomegranates? The story of Persephone is a good one to read if you like the fruit.

KK found a pomegranate on the tree

After running around the olive grove and eating prickly pear gelato, KK fell asleep in the car. If we took her out of the car she would wake up.

Everyone fell asleep. So I drove them to Casa Grande National Monument because I am good like that.

Are Uncle Mickey’s eyes rolling up to the top of his head?

Casa Grande is a great place to play hide and seek. Don’t forget to look for the two owls that live in the canopy over the Great House. We noticed on this visit that the visitor’s center is enlarged and has a new theater. Casa Grande is free on 9/29/12 for Public Lands Day.

I know it looks like I took my family out in the sun all week. That is exactly what I did. They are pretty tired!

After our hikes, we went swimming and made s’mores on the patio.

Here are 50 more s’mores recipes. What kind will you try?

Halloween is just around the corner! This is my pick from the 50.

My favorite part of the visit was snuggling up with new baby Abby. She just ate, slept and smiled.

The next time we see Abby, she will be 11 months old and on her way to walking. It is hard to believe!

I hope you enjoyed the pictures!!

Love,
Mrs. Kenney

Epic Natural Beauty: Camping in Tortilla Flat

Dear Students,

We have an ambitious family goal of camping once a month. April looked shaky, we didn’t know where to go. I pulled out my trusty 144 best campgrounds in AZ late Friday night, but could not decide. It is the cusp of the season here. The winter campgrounds are hot, the cooler campgrounds open in May. We considered Tonto Natural Bridge, Christopher Creek. I dismissed Tortilla Flat because I wanted to sit in the trees. To be honest, I know very little about camping and even less about local campgrounds. The only way to change is get out and go.

In the morning we attended a final soccer game, then home to an unpacked car and a messy house and no destination in mind.

With his participation trophy and his fabulous Coach

So with no better idea, and the fact that we were running into the afternoon, we picked Tortilla Flat. It was close by. Finding trees and shade is too much drama in this part of the world. We packed hastily, chucked a cooler in the car and hit the grocery store on the way out for hot dogs and smores fixings.

We took the Apache Trail, the drive is relentlessly, crushingly, world heritage style beautiful. I took this photo with my phone, I can imagine a real photographer happily spending their career here and never running out of inspiration. It’s that awesome.

The Apache Trail is a state scenic by-way. Simply driving on the trail makes you think you are on vacation. It’s recommended as fun for people that live in Phoenix. I disagree. I think it is great for anyone in the world. I honeymooned in the Canadian Rockies and I felt like the Apache Trail was just as gorgeous. What a treat.

We arrived around 3PM to a nearly empty campground, blazing heat, no shade and buzzing black flies. The awesomeness of the scenery made up for all of that. We made our own shade with the mini van and waited for the relief of sunset.

Camping at Tortilla Flat requires a 24 hour Tonto Day Pass ($6.00). These inexpensive passes are available at many local businesses. We bought ours at the Circle K in Queen Creek. We passed a CVS that had a sign advertising Day Passes Sold Here. The closer you are to the Tonto National Forest, the more vendors you will find, pop in any convenience store and ask. If you don’t have a pass you risk a fine.

The campsites were arranged in three lanes, in tiers, You drove through a one way loop and looked for the best one. All were flat, treeless and covered with fine gravel. We picked #14.

Recreation choices abound at Tortilla Flats. There is a marina, a small row of stores/museums in the tiny town of Tortilla Flat (population 6). As the afternoon waned, the experienced people filled up the campground (and avoided the baking heat).

The dusk brought out the wildlife. Mine and the desert dwellers.

The Tortilla Flat campground is situated in the Canyon Lake Recreation area. As the afternoon fell, a coyotes howled across the canyon. At dusk he loped downhill, thin and grey as smoke to join his friend. I did not take a picture I was too busy picking up Max and walking backward to let him go by unimpeded. From our vantage we could follow him in and out of view, I was glad for the sparse desert vegetation. As the sun set over the canyon rim, the bats came out fat and chunky, feasting on bugs. I wished we would hear the coyote again and was rewarded twice more that night with their lonely desert music. Heaven. I will go back over and over again just to hear coyotes calling within a canyon.

After we made smores, the boys washed up in the bathroom that had flush toilets AND sinks with running water. A real bathroom. I was so excited I felt like someone had given me a one hundred dollar bill. These bathrooms were situated throughout the campsite, sealing the deal of Best Campground Ever.

The next morning found us breaking down camp fairly quickly, without shade the campsite was not a welcome place to spend the day. The camp closes for the season on May 1. We will be be back in November, Tortilla Flat made the list for local winter camping. Of the six places we’ve camped this past year, we saw the most wildlife here: coyote, rattlesnake, bats, quail, turkey vulture and hawk.

The Lesser Long Nosed bat is an endangered migratory bat. I don’t know if this is the bat we saw, but it may have been. The flowers were in bloom at this time of year. Photo by Merlin D. Tuttle Bat Conservation International

Under a wolf moon,
Mrs. Kenney

Tortilla Flats

We made our second foray down the Apache Trail towards the Roosevelt Dam. This time we made it as far as Tortilla Flats and I drove. On a weekday the road had some traffic but it was not nearly as busy as it is on the weekend. I was nervous driving my big minivan on the Apache Trail, but this portion was no trouble.

The Tortilla Flat is a tourist destination located along the scenic Apache Trail. It bills itself as a small town of 6 people. Situated amongst eye-dropping scenery, Tortilla Flats is a collection of western storefronts, namely a mercantile, restaurant, tiny museum in a converted school house and a nice outdoor patio with a stage.

We visited on a Tuesday around 11 AM and it was busy but not crowded.

The Tortilla Flat restaurant is a gem. The walls are papered in money. I expected this in one room, but the whole restaurant was. The bar stools are not stools, they are saddles. Everyone takes a picture of that. We saw a javelina head mounted on the wall. My eyes were tempted to read all the little signs and notices but my boys kept me focused. We had an ordinary lunch of burgers and fries. The kids were given a kids menu. The food was better than I expected for such a tourist trap seeming place — I am not being bitter, I just remember eating at Rustlers Roost and paying a small fortune for terrible food. The Roost is another fun place, great patio, view, music, ambience, slide. Horrible food. Don’t come hungry.

I digress, I guess I wanted to establish a standard for food quality. Rustler Roost not so good, Tortilla Flat, no complaints. We had lots of fun. Lots to see and do, a live band was performing on the patio. I saw notices that said they had gunfight shows periodically.

Fun place, even if you are not planning to eat you can stroll the town, snap some pictures, listen to music and maybe treat yourself to ice cream. We’ll be back.

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Hiking: The Lost Dutchman State Park

Dear Students,

The 320 acre Lost Dutchman State Park features my favorite mountains (so far) in the Valley of the Sun. I love the name “Superstition Mountains”.  Now that my youngest is 4 we decided to tackle a family hike.

I planned for the best case (hike) and worst case (drive). We decided to hike a portion of the Treasure Loop Trail and then drive on the Apache Trail to the Tortilla Flats restaurant. What I like about this plan is that the drive features the Apache Trail Scenic Byway.

We paid an entrance fee ($6.00). The park has amenities. You can camp here, reserve ramadas for day use. If I had to do it over again, I would have prepped my Junior Rangers a little and downloaded activities for the boys. Next time.

This hike was a roller coaster of emotion for them. The were alternately defiant, then starving, then passive, then very weak and must be carried. They flopped in the dust complaining. Then they recovered and ran full steam towards the rocks. My little one tried to cut across the park towards a particular rock configuration that looked like a throne to him. He was devastated when I told him to “stay on the highlighted route”.  We corralled them and soldiered ever closer to giant boulders in great cliff walls and rock towers. Very cool. We wended a steep and narrow trail and finally halted in a cluster of giant rocks. We could see trail layers extended upward and closer to the rocks but we had already been walking for an hour and little boys were whipped. Do you find my vague and non technical description of the hike lacking in useful descriptions? Hiking is new to me. Future posts will be littered with helpful asides like “jojoba” and “basalt” but all I can offer you now is starved desiccated plant things and big rocks. I need to get my Junior Ranger badge.

The nice thing about stopping at that point was the way down was easy. It was all downhill. I daydreamed as I carried my younger one down the mountain about the legendary lost gold mine and how epic would that be if our inept little crew solved a hundreds year old mystery and found it. Perhaps next time.

Once at the bottom of the trail we used the restroom (clean) and the water fountain (cold!).

The little one was nodding off as we pulled out of the lot. We took a right onto the Apache Trail and enjoyed amazing scenery. The road was crowded with cars and motorcyclists but that did not detract from the beauty of the drive. Tortilla Flats is about ten miles beyond the park. It was crowded so we didn’t stay. We’ll be back when we have out of town guests, but in the meantime, two sleepy boys meant it was time to head home.

With sore feet,
Mrs. Kenney